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thank you all so much for being here tonight. it was helpful to talk to you. chris will be back on monday. up next is on msnbc special on president obama and trayvon martin. good night. if trayvon martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? >> the president, the zimmerman trial and race. >> trayvon martin could have been me. >> literally we all looked up and there was the president. >> unannounced the president walking into the briefing room. >> it was regarding the george zimmerman trial. >> he simply gave us the world view of trayvon martin and parents of trayvon martin. >> the african-american community is looking at this issue fthrough a set of experiences. >> one stunning moment, he said, trayvon martin could have been me. >> another way of sating that, trayvon martin could have been me. >> this might not have been the right politics. >> we have a polarized country. >> given how polarizing the
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conversation has been. >> in spite of that the president clearly decided, you know what, this is too important. >> you can't underestimate how huge this is. >> he just showed up in the briefing room and spoke from the heart. >> there's a lot of pain around what happened here. i think it's going to be important for all of us to do some soul searching. good evening, welcome to an msnbc special. president obama and trayvon martin. i'm alex wagner. >> i'm melissa harris perry. six days after a jury in sanford, florida, found george zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting of trayvon martin, president obama surprised the white house press corps and nation by coming into the white house briefing room to give his thoughts. >> speaking for 17 minutes, the president said he respected the jury's verdict and praised trayvon martin's family for the incredible grace and dignity they've shown in the face of such an unthinkable tragedy. >> the president said he's
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watched the national debate playing out since the verdict and said 35 what years ago, this is astonishing, trayvon martin could have been me. he then talked about his own experiences about being a black man in america. >> the speech touched on the complexity of relations between white and black americans and how the shooting and its aftermath were equally informed and complicated by america's difficult history with race. >> first of all, i want to make sure that, once again, i send my thoughts and prayers as well as michelle's to the family of trayvon martin, and to remark on the incredible grace and dignity with which they've dealt with the entire situation. i can only imagine what they're going through, and it's remarkable how they've handled it. the second thing i want to say is to reiterate what i said on sunday which is there are going to be a lot of arguments about
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the legal issues in the case. i'll let all the legal analysts and talking heads address those issues. the judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. the prosecution and the defense made their arguments. the jurors were properly instructed that in a case such as this, reasonable doubt was relevant and they rendered a verdict. and once the jury's spoken, that's how our system works. but i did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling. you know, when trayvon martin was first shot, i said that this could have been my son.
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another way of saying that is trayvon martin could have been me 35 years ago. and when you think about why in the african-american community, at least, there's a lot of pain around what happened here, i think it's important to recognize that the african-american community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn't go away. there are very few african-american men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. that includes me. there are, frankly, very few african-american men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing
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the locks click on the doors of cars. that happens to me. at least before i was a senator. there are very few african-americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. that happens often. and i don't want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the african-american community interprets what happened one night in florida. and it's inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. the african-american community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial
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disparities in the application of our criminal laws. everything from the death penalty, to enforcement of our drug laws. and that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case. >> let's bring in our panel. in washington, we have jonathan capehart, msnbc political analyst. and opinion writer for the "washington post." also maya wiley, founder and president for the center of social inclusion. i want to start with you, jonathan, because part of what happened today, the president in acknowledging and discussing the pain of african-american communities, it also felt like he was saying and that pain matters, right? and it matters that we feel this. how did you first sort of hear and respond to the president? >> well, i was there in the room, melissa, when the president came in. it was a total surprise to the press corps. and to hear him speak the way he did and acknowledge the pain,
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frustration, even aggravation of african-americans and particularly african-american men, was extraordinary. extraordinary for a man who a lot of people complain done talk enough about race, doesn't acknowledge his blackness to a lot of people's satisfaction. but i also want to point out one other thing and that is by the president speaking for so long, 17, 16 minutes, one about race, two about the tragedy in sanford, but three, about trayvon martin. it seems to me that for the first time after the four weeks of that trial, of the swrorngeo zimmerman trial, we finally had someone to speak up for trayvon martin. and the fact that it was the president of the united states is a powerful, powerful thing. >> maya, we have spoken even this week about the idea that racism may be pervasive in our
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culture, if not public. and i think for a lot of people, black, white, whatever color you are, it was revulatory to hear the president of the united states talk an car doors locking shut when he passed by and purses being clutched. that is not something -- i mean, to hear a something say that that happened to him i think for this public is shocking. >> i think you're absolutely right, alex. that was the chill moment, right? when we all got chills up and down our spines because we thought, how many times, we jokingly used to say bill clinton was the first black president. bill clinton couldn't have made those statements, right? he could not have said, i have had the door locks, i have had the woman clutch their purses. and i do want to say that what he didn't say, white women clutch their purses. i mean, we're not talking about black women getting in an elevator. that's what's so racialized about it. i would add one thing, though. listening to his speech once i got over the excitement and the incredible power of having the
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president of the united states say i am trayvon martin, which is essentially what he said, was listening to it as many white americans will listen to it. he kept raising the context, but he didn't say what the context was. he didn't say it's that for black people, we are overpoliced, we are not necessarily more violent, even though people may be afraid that we are. >> well, i mean, he did in some ways in that he acknowledged there was policy. it's interesting you say that, maya. i felt the president groping today in ways that he's normally a little more polished. >> he was speaking extemporaneously for 17 minutes which on a really heavy topic. >> right, and one that he knew was radioactive. right? >> and a personal risk. >> he's going to get attacked by a number of quarters in the society for talking about race. >> jonathan, i kept thinking about my favorite picture from the first campaign which is president obama in the oval office with 5-year-old jacob
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philadelphia, and this 5-year-old said ask the president to bend down because he wanted to see if his president had hair like him. and there's a visceral -- we know the race is socially constructed, but there was something visceral an that idea that the american presidency is embodied in a body like mine and then the president said, and that body that is like yours has had these experiences. in that way he does become trayvon martin. >> right. exactly. i mean, that photo, i remember the first time i saw it in the west wing. it took my breath away. it stopped me in my tracks. i asked who is that? when was that taken? tell me the story behind it. it's such -- it's a simple photo, but it packs a powerful punch. just for the symbolism of it all. we're all very sensitive as african-americans about our hair and african-american men about our heads, being patted on our heads and being treated like little boys. even when we're grown men by other grown men.
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but, you know, being in the room with the president and hearing him say those words, however haltingly, from the podium, unscripted, no teleprompter, speaking to his pain, he was speaking to mine and my frustration and i wrote in a piece that i put up today that my eyes welled with tears because it's always powerful. it's always meaningful when someone who looks like you can talk about something, an experience you have had that is painful that they have shared. and to have him do it on the, in the white house from the briefing room and basically on the world stage, brings it to a whole new level that i hope will allow a lot of people to understand maybe a little more clearly about why african-americans are so upset and frustrated by what happened with the verdict in sanford on saturday.
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>> let me ask you, maya. leading up to this point, there was a lot of back and forth as to whether the president needed to say something. and we're certainly going to be talking about that a lot tonight. there has been outrage in all corners of american society, but specifically there is tension, i think, it's fair to say, between president obama and the african american community in terms of him taking of the mantle. some people say it's not his job to be the spokesperson for all african-americans, he should just be our president. but there was, i think, a sense nationally of mounting pressure that he had to weigh in in more substantive fashion than he had thus far on the subject of trayvon martin. you know there's going to be a big civil rights march tomorrow that reverend sharpton is going to be leading. beyonce weighed in today. beyonce is a pop culture figure but is also someone with 10 million twitter followers. there is something in the groundwater, i think, about needing to be more public. i wonder to what degree you thought this was an answer to that criticism or that call to action. >> well, i think there are two things. i think, one, the president was
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being a human. and that's what we're talking about, right? jonathan talking about how it felt and the incredible power. and the fact that he wasn't scripted. when he gave that speech on race in philadelphia in 2008, he had prepared a very careful speech. it was a strong speech, it was a careful speech and this was a much more human reaction. and i think that means we have to -- all presidents are human. so the idea that white presidents aren't being white presidents is -- >> that's such a good -- >> so barack obama is being president barack obama which is to say he's being the president of all americans and all presidents who walk into that white house with their own experiences. and the other thing he said, remember what he said in his speech, he went to policy. there is a bill pending in congress that representative john conyers has introduced against racial profiling. i think it's absolutely right for a president of the united states to call for policy reforms where they're needed. >> we will be talking more about that very subject. jonathan capehart, thank you as always.
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maya, you are staying with us. coming up, the politics of today's speech. ry dollar. for the visionary, seeing cash coming in and going out. for the dreamer, checking that retirement is right on track. for the cfo, making sure assets are working overtime. for over 160 years, pnc has been part of the communities we serve, providing tools, guidance and experience to help people achieve.
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welcome back to our special coverage of president obama's remarks on trayvon martin. one of keywords in president obama's speech was context. the president made an effort to put african-american anger about the trayvon martin case in context, but he was also candid about the statistics regarding african-american males and crime. >> this isn't to say that the african-american community is naive about the fact that african-american young men are disproportionately involved in
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the criminal justice system, that they're disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. it's not to make excuses for that fact, although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context. they understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country. and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history. and so the fact that sometimes that's unacknowledged adds to the frustration. and the fact that a lot of african-american boys are painted with a broad brush and
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the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that african-american boys are more violent, using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain. i think the african-american community is also not naive in understanding that statistically somebody like trayvon martin was probably statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else. so, so folks understand the challenges that exist for african-american boys, but they get frustrated, i think, if they feel there's no context for it, and that context is being denied.
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and that all contributes, i think, to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that from top to bottom both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different. >> joining us, nbc news white house correspondent, peter alexander. richard wolffe, the executive editor of, and back with us, maya wiley. peter, i want to go to you first. we just played that sound bite from president obama and he makes a point of talking about context. and parts of that seemed directed at white america and parts of that seemed directed at black america. race is obviously an incendiary topic in american society and the president has been very careful thus far, but i think a lot of us were shocked at the fact he was speaking extemporaneously without a script. there was also no heads-up that this was happening. from the vantage point of the white house, do you know how much preparation went into this?
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what kind of intel do we have about the lead-in into this historic address? >> yeah, senior white house officials tell us, alex, this decision was made by the president late yesterday afternoon, even yesterday evening after several days of consideration. he said america really needs to some soul searching and it's now obvious that he had been doing some soul searching of his own over the course of the last several days. the decision apparently we are told was made after conversations with members of his family and with some friends. he brought together some of his senior advisers and said i want to make a statement on this topic, but i don't want this to be some scripted event. i want to be able to speak extemporaneously and from the heart. what struck me when u walked into the briefing room today, obviously this is a man who is at times criticized for the teleprompters and stiffness of his remarks. he had two note cards in front of him. that was it. he rarely looked down. it was remarks or things he's been thinking about not just through the course of the last
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several days but the course of his lifetime, certainly his lifetime as a public figure and the decision was made with no warning. the white house press corps, i was one racing out there as he waited. i said, mr. president, that was not a warning, that was more than like 90 seconds as we smiled at me and we found our places. >> he made a decision last night that he was talk iing about wanting to do this without script. i'm wondering if there was someone in that room who said, mr. president, please don't do that, please don't wade into this, into race without a clear script. you are risking too much. you are being too vulnerable. how does the president nonetheless make the decision to go ahead and do what he did today? >> well, this isn't the first time he's faced this, you know, he wanted to talk about race very early on in the 2008 campaign, and his advisers, they didn't try to tell him not to do it, they just said it was never the right time to do it. that's what happened, of course, web the reverend wright fiasco
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happened and he had to come back in and make the speech that he made in philadelphia. again, this is a situation where no one had the guts or the ground to tell him not to do it and he had been working on this speech in his head for many, many years. in fact, one of the things i reported out right at the start of the 2007/2008 campaign was this precise issue, this one he's found so difficult, not surprisingly, to talk about in public, was part of his very decision to run for president in the first place. talking to his friends, some of the same people he's been talking to in recent days, he thought that one of the greatest impacts of him running for president would be the example he could set for young african-american boys, especially. and i talked to him about that again on the campaign trail, asked him specifically what did he think he could do as an example? and he wanted to engage in a dialogue directly with people in public schools, especially boys, and say there is a future out there, you can, as he would like to say, dream big dreams. i think this has been a running dialogue that pops out rarely,
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and this is one of those times that it's happened. >> maya, give me your thoughts on what the president said in that last clip, because some part of it, he talks about not making excuses for the fact that violence plagues african-american communities. and we talk about context, but context is really loaded in this case. i want to know your thoughts on that moment specifically. >> so this is how i would sum up the president's speech. he was singing in key and he skipped some notes. and you showed the part of the speech where i thought he skipped a lot of notes because most people don't understand that what context he is talking abouts and it's not just a historic context. it's a present day context. so i don't think he challenged enough what most people assume is that black people are more violent than people who are white because the reality is we have statistics that show 17 pk of people who are white who are stopped by police in traffic stops come up with evidence. only 8% of blacks who are
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stopped by traffic cops do they come up with evidence against the people they stopped and 10% of latinos. so that's actually not black people being more criminals, but we are more policed. and there's a distinction there and we are -- unless we challenge some of the ster stereotypes, in a sense, by skipping those notes, the president may have reinforced those. >> it feels like he reinforces in a way that is traditional respectability politics that goes back to the turn of the 20th century. i wonder if that is actually potentially part of what gives him a little more space here. that he has spent all these years saying, pull up your pants, do the right thing, be a good dad so when he comes out and says, hey, for real, now we have gone too far. >> and if trayvon martin or george zimmerman had been black or the roles had been reversed. i think to melissa's point, erick erickson not known to be a liberal activist if you will tweeted three things after the
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president's speech. i don't really have a problem with the president's speech today. acknowledged disproportionate crime among young black men and others use to paint with too broad a brush and, three, people say we need to have an honest conversation about race. seems like the president tried to start one. don't see the need to attack. to melissa's point, that groundwork won him an open ear from erick erickson. >> that may have been saying it's fine as long as in talking about race we say that black people are wrong. and that's, i think, the concern. i think talking about race for the president to say individual responsibility matters is absolutely right. that's not the same thing as group-based differences can be explained by stereotypes that we carry. >> so richard, is there a way? i think maya's point is such an important one. the president is calling in part for a conversation though he says he shouldn't be leading it. what we know about race is we don't share the same vocabulary. it's hard to have the conversation because it's like we're speaking two different languages. did he begin to lay a groundwork
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for the vocabulary to have that talk? >> well, i think he's been laying it all the way through. one of the interesting things through 2008 was that people's attitudes toward was america ready for a black president? there were endless ways to express that question, to try and sort of find out if people felt racism, if they were going to vote for a black candidate, bu that pure question, is america ready for a black president? that changed through the course of the 2008 campaign and his presidency. by his example, people have changed their understanding and that's why his perspective, some of the right were saying he was being narcissistic by talking about himself, but actually his perspective on this is very immediate. people can understand that he is, to quote, to paraphrase what the voters see about him as being likable enough, as being acceptable in middle class company, and so here is someone
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whose perspective can be incredibly insightful. now, is that enough of a conversation? absolutely not. but if you look at what that balance he is striking, individual responsibility, how we all have a collective responsibility to figure out where the laws are falling short. i think that, you know, that was a big step forward today, but it's just the start. >> peter, i want to ask you, matt drudge has already manipulated a photo of president obama in a hoodie looking like trayvon martin. sean hannity has had words saying, is the president admitting that he was like trayvon martin because he was part of the chum gang and smoked a little pot? the partisan blowback has already started. to what degree is the white house prepared for this? we understand the president has thought a lot about this since before he was even a candidate. given the fact the gates have now been opened, is there now going to be a war-room in the white house that's going to be focused on the issue of race and some of the policy objectives the president laid out?
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>> yeah, i think, you know, it's very clear in terms of the policy objectives. he said exactly what we do going forward, if nothing else, to initiate that conversation, much like the same way in his remarks just a couple days ago on the issue of health care where he said obviously washington can't talk about this issue in a rational way. on this one he said, i don't believe that washington or politicians should be the ones talking about this. this is something that should be talked about among families at home, in churches, and perhaps that's the best way you can truly launch this conversation. >> thank you to nbc's peter alexander.'s richard wolffe. and maya wiley from the center for social inclusion. and coming up, what, if any, policy changes could the president make? you are watching the msnbc special "president obama and trayvon martin." [ male announcer ] it's 7am and steve is already thinking about tomorrow.
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traditionally, these are issues of state and local government. the criminal code. and law enforcement is traditionally done at state and local levels, not at the federal levels. that doesn't mean, though, that as a nation we can't do some things that i think would be productive. >> what can be done and the role of policy and politics of race? >> that's next. stay with us.
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take up to 6 tylenol in a day or just 2 aleve for all day relief. all aboard. ♪ all aboard. i'm gonna have to ask you to power down your little word game. i think your friends will understand., it's actually my geico app...see? ...i just uh paid my bill. did you really? from the plane? yeah, i can manage my policy, get roadside assistance, pretty much access geico 24/7. sounds a little too good to be true sir. i'll believe that when pigs fly. ok, did she seriously just say that? geico. just a click away with our free mobile app. when i was in illinois, i passed racial profiling legislation and it actually did just two simple things. one, it collected data on traffic stops and the race of the person who was stopped. the other thing was it resourced
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us training police departments across the state on how to think about potential racial bias and ways to further professionalize what they were doing. and initially the police departments across state were resistant, but actually they came to recognize that if it was done in a fair, straightforward way, that it would allow them to do their jobs better and communities would have more confidence in them and in turn be more helpful in applying the law. and obviously law enforcement's got a very tough job. >> though the contours of president obama's speech were broad, he did focus on two specific policy issues. racial profiling and stand your ground laws that are on the books in more than 30 states. >> and for those who resist that
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idea that we should think about something like the stand wrr ground laws, i just ask people to consider if trayvon martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? and do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting mr. zimmerman who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened? and if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws. >> joining us now, charles ogletr ogletree, senior adviser to president obama and a harvard law school professor who taught both president and mrs. obama. professor ogletree is also author of "the presumption of guilt." and mark thompson, host of "make it plain" on sirius xm radio. i'd like to bring in what "the new york times" editorial board
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has already written about the president's remarks today. the board writes the "in the narrow confines of the trial, all talks of race was excluded and the stand your ground element in florida's self-defense law was not invoked by mr. zimmerman's lawyers. in the broader more troubling aspect of mr. martin's death, race and florida's lax gun laws are inextricably interwoven." people who watched the trial were happy the president brought up the two elements of the american judicial system that has racial elements. >> i've known president barack obama since he was a student at harvard. a quarter of a century since 1998. today for the first time he unequivocally and completely embraced the black community. i'm not saying only the black community, but there was something profound and personal as a father, as a parent, as a president, that came through. what i thought was most effective about it was if you read the whole statement, it's not just about race, not just about trayvon martin but i
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thought it was very helpful to all of america and it had a little bit of the law professor in him, a little bit of that lawyer in him in the sense of asking the question that others will answer, and i thought that was a very profound and important address and really made me happy to see him do it today. >> professor ogletree, i'm a big fan of the speech adds well. i have to say, the one part i thought he got wrong was the part we heard where he says, the president says this is something kind of dealt with by state and local law enforcement. in fact, on questions of racial justice, it has almost always required the federal government, whether it was civil war, whether it was the fact that the senate never passed a legislation, and in 2005 the senate apologized for having never passed anti-lynchin fwrg legislation, whether it's the voting rights act that we saw gutted. i'm a huge fan of the speech but i felt in the moment maybe he advocated a particular role for the federal government on policy. >> well, i don't know.
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he did mention attorney general holder and his ongoing investigation. i don't know if i would go so far as to say he advocated. i agree with harls charles, thip of the first times we've seen the president step out of the title of the presidency and speak as an everyday african-american male and identify with the majority of african-american males in this country. i thought that was very, very important. we know -- you're absolutely right that the federal government has always had to intervene even in terms of dealing with some of these landmark criminal cases where people civil rights were violated. yeah. i don't think he denied that. i think even mentioning what the attorney general was doing, i think he embraced that. >> professor ogletree, a lot of americans don't pay attention to the targeting and disproportionate incarceration rates of young african-american men and the sort of echo, the cascade effect it has in terms
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of income, in terms of mobility, and mobility in american society, income gains and really a more equitable society. i thought it was a wonderful moment that the president brought that up in the national context and if you look at the numbers, and i think it's important that we show america this, if you look at overall marijuana use between the two races, because drug incourse ration is one of the most common charges against african-american males. the usage is slightly higher among blacks. when you look at arrest rates for marijuana possession, blacks far outnumber whites. do you think this has effective wi ly begun a conversation a lot of folks have been waiting for in terms of reforming the code in the united states? >> the president made it very clear, said it's time for us to have a conversation about race. bill clinton said that. we haven't had it. now is the time to have it. we have to have it sometimes in these very difficult moments. i dis agragree with one thing y say about the president, has, in a sense, deferred to the states.
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if you think about the stand my ground, stand your ground laws, they're state actions and president is responding what the federal role can be. the federal role is to always come in after the state's role. rodney king was beaten in the early '90s yet had the federal government prosecute him. this is another example of where the federal role is the appropriate one, and you've already heard eric holder talk about it. i talk about it in my book "presumption of guilt" about henry gates. i thought today was the president embracing the black community and they love it. i think it's going to make him a president of not just some of the people in america, but all the people. even though some people would disagree with what he had to say. >> it felt to me, just to bring back that point, professor ogletr ogletree, on this idea of sort of giving voice to something that hadn't. we heard from juror b-37 the sense of identification with george zimmerman. that this juror could experience, right, that she
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understood that george zimmerman would be afraid in this moment. it felt to me as though this all turned on the difficulty of believing that trayvon martin could be afraid. >> yes. >> right. that's exactly right. >> that he humanized this child who's been lost? >> he did. he made him into a 17-year-old african-american male who has to fear for his safety wherever he goes, who's profiled wherever he goes. now he's dead but he will forever be remembered. i just wrote a piece for "ebony" magazine that will be coming out soon. i've been talking about this issue for a long time, the rodney king case in 1994, i wrote about professor gates in 2010. now here we are again talking about the very same issues. it's time for us to move forward and do some of the things we promised to do before. >> juror b-37 also identified with stand your ground. she identified with zimmerman and she identified with the law. and so you have the racial aspect of it and you also have the enabling of the racial aspect because of this law. and i think the president is
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right to raise it, but, again, what happened today that was so historic, we've had past presidents intervene in situations like this from the federal level, but this is on behalf of race, and racial and civil rights issues, but this is the first president who could speak to it in the first person. >> he embodied it. >> let me just say this really quickly, mark, you're exactly right about that. what's great about it is the president talked about these issues but left open the idea that we as a country have to talk about it. >> we have to take it. please say hello to our friend professor ogletree, professor gates who was watching in open mouth awe the president today. thank you to charles ogletree of harvard university and mark thompson of sirius xm. still to come, the president brings back four vital words from his 2008 speech on race. this is so so soft.
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in the briefing room of the white house this afternoon, president barack obama was speaking not just as the nation's president, but also as a parent. >> let me just leave you with a final thought that as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, i don't want us to lose sight that things are getting better. each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. doesn't mean we're in a post-racial society. doesn't mean that racism is eliminated, but, you know, when i talk to malia and sasha, and i listen to their friends and i see them interact, they're
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better than we are. they're better than we were. on these issues. and that's true in every community that i've visited all across the country. country. and so, you know, we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues and those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of were on nature as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions. but we should also have confidence that kids these days have more sense than we did back then and certainly more our parents or our grandparents did, and that along this long, difficult journey, we are
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becoming a more perfect union. not a perfect union. but a more perfect union. >> that phrase, a more perfect union, is not just part of the preamble to the constitution of the united states. that phrase is how then senator barack obama began his other definitive about race. it is now we refer to a speech he ghaf march ave in march of 2 philadelphia. in that speech, senator obama described the nation's black/white divide as, quote, a racial stalemate. we have been stuck in for years. joining us now is michael, msnbc presidential historian and author of nine books on american politics and political figures. thank you for being here tonight. >> a pleasure. >> other presidents have addressed race. exactly 50 years ago in june, jfk stood and discussed race.
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what makes this president's address on race different? >> well, what makes it different is one overwhelming fact and that is for first 220 years of american presidents, a lot of speeches given on civil rights but they were all given by people who may have had the best intentions and kindness and empathy but they had to ask other people what the experience was of african-americans in the society. they had never suffered that kind of suspicion and abuse and discrimination. you know, abraham lincoln talked to frederick douglas and used him as a sounding board. theodore roosevelt did the same thing with booker washington and later presidents did too. now for the last four and a half years finally in american history we have someone who is president who doesn't need to ask. >> michael, i want to ask you about his invocation of his daughters. children and the next generation seem to be really animating factor in president obama's speeches, but also in his sort
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of landmark moment. the landmark moments of his presidency. whether at newtown, whether talking about birth control, whether this moment talking about race and this feeling that those who come after us are better than us. tell me more about rhetorically and spiritually where he is on that issue. >> i think you're right, alex. when i heard him say in the clip that we just heard, made a little bit of an african-american friend who has a granddaughter who just learned about rose is a parks. she said we just learned about rose is a parks. i don't see why it was a big deal she wouldn't give up her seat to a white passenger or go to the back of the story, i wouldn't do that either. it was a horrible story that things have changed enough in this country that it seemed to her to be very bizarre. >> as a parent, one of the hardest things about the zimmerman verdict was having to talk to my daughter, 11 years old, who has grown up in the age of obama, who has never thought
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of herself nickel other than part of the american story and felt agony when she heard that verdict. is there something in the president's fatherhood we should learn about him as a president? >> i think there is. a, he is not content with things as they are. b, in a way, any president who deals with civil rights, whether it's barack obama or anyone else, has in a way a more difficult problem than the president of the '50s and '60s and '70s. you were dealing with integrating the schools in public places and giving voting rights to people and integrating housing. those was a clear struggle. now we are dealing with issues a little more nuance and more controversial and not as grandiose and a little more difficult for a leader. >> the difficulty is the train we have to cross together. we have to lear it there. thank you, michael. >> a pleasure. >> up next, trayvon martin's parents respond to the president's speech. all business purchases.
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so what did you think of the house? did you see the school ratings? oh, you're right. hey babe, i got to go. bye daddy! have a good day at school, ok? ...but what about when my parents visit? ok. i just love this one... and it's next to a park. i love it. i love it too. here's our new house... daddy! you're not just looking for a house. you're looking for a place for your life to happen. to prove to you that aleve is the better choice for him, he's agreed to give it up. that's today? [ male announcer ] we'll be with him all day as he goes back to taking tylenol. i was okay, but after lunch my knee started to hurt again. and now i've got to take more pills. ♪ yup. another pill stop. can i get my aleve back yet? ♪ for my pain, i want my aleve. ♪ [ male announcer ] look for the easy-open red arthritis cap.
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which is why he's investing in his heart health by eating kellogg's raisin bran®. good morning dad. hi, sweetie. [ male announcer ] here's another eye opener. not only is kellogg's raisin bran® heart healthy it's a delicious source of potassium. ♪ mom make you eat that? i happen to like raisins. now that's what i'm talkin' about. [ male announcer ] invest in your heart health with kellogg's raisin bran®. i send my thoughts and prayers, as well as michelle's to the family of trayvon martin. and to remark on the incredible grace and dignity with which they have dealt with the entire situation. i can only imagine what they are going through and it's remarkable how they have handled it.
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>> president obama began his remarks about trayvon martin with praise for the family of the slain teenager and how they have coped with what he called the entire situation. >> i think there's no question that those parents have been just astonishing. they, in fact, had a statement of their own tonight and so trayvon's parents responded with this statement saying, in part, quote. the president's comments give us great strength at this time. we know our family has become a conduit for people to talk about race in america and to try and talk about the difficult issues that we need to bring into the light in order to become a better people. what touches people is that our son, trayvon benjamin martin, could have been their son. president obama sees himself in trayvon and identifies with with him. this is a beautiful tribute to our boy. trayvon's life was cut short. we hope that his legacy will continue -- will make our communities a better place for generations to come. that is maybe all that parents who no matter what that verdict was, they lost their son, maybe
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that is all they could ever hope for. >> that is certainly the place of the president was from where president obama was speaking today. >> that is our show today. >> thanks for watching. the reverend al sharpton's interview with trayvon martin's parents is coming up next. nearly 17 months ago on a rainy night in sanford, florida, 17-year-old trayvon martin was shot and killed. five days ago, george zimmerman was found not guilty in his death. since then, we have seen a huge reaction, protests around the country, calls for boycott of florida, a new debate on race and guns. even a statement from the president of the united states. but there are two people we haven't heard much from, tray von's parents, sa brin that fulton and tracy martin. tonight, they are here and for the next hour, we will talk about their reaction t

The Rachel Maddow Show
MSNBC July 19, 2013 6:00pm-7:01pm PDT

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TOPIC FREQUENCY Trayvon Martin 20, Florida 6, Kellogg 6, Maya 5, Msnbc 5, Washington 5, Obama 4, George Zimmerman 4, Ogletree 4, Sanford 3, Usaa 3, Geico 3, Barack Obama 3, Zimmerman 3, Coca-cola 2, Sharpton 2, Raisins 2, Sirius 2, Erick Erickson 2, Sweetie 2
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